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Eid Mubarak – King of South Asian Cuisine: Biryani

Eid Mubarak –  King of South Asian Cuisine: Biryani

It is that time of the year when many of my Muslim friends are fasting for Ramadan, an Islamic ritual when Muslims around the world spend the daylight hours in a complete fast and only break their fast in the evening. And it is during this time that my foodie instinct drove me to search for the best ‘Biryani’ in Htown. The word biryani came from the Persian word beryā(n), a Pakistani and Indian delicacy, the recipe of biryani consists of rice, spices and meat (mostly goat meat and chicken). Although, the ingredients do not change dramatically, the biriyani found in different parts of the Indian subcontinent vary greatly in taste, hot, mild, dry and wet.

The quest to find the best biryani and an awesome pairing with that is shammi kababs (finely ground spicy goat meat patties) started with some exploring around Hillcroft and Harwin, Houston’s Mahatma Gandhi District. First stop was Mezban, a Pakistani and Indian restaurant on Harwin Drive that is quite popular amongst all ethnicities, but its attendance is highest during Iftar time. ‘Iftar’ refers to the break time for those fasting during Ramadan and it is often done as a community with people gathering to break their fast together. Mezban offers very affordable chicken biryani for $3.99 and goat meat biryani for $8.99 which can be enjoyed solo or with different types of Kababs like shammi or reshmi kababs. Another common biriyani condiment is ‘raitha’, a yogurt based sauce.

Growing up in the Northern part of India helped me in developing a palette of discerning ‘great’ biriyani. Sheikh Chilli‘s Restaurant tucked on 6121 Hillcroft Street Houston, TX 77081‎ is one of Houston’s best kept secrets to authentic goat meat biryani. The restaurant itself is not a fancy place to sit down and dine, but the trip to pick up an order of biriyani to go, is well worth it.

A wide array of spices like cumin, cardamom, nutmeg, pepper cloves and others fried along with rice in ‘ghee’ (clarified butter), this popular dish is made in many ways in India. Each state has its own recipe. The most popular ones are Lucknow and Hyderabad Biryani. Sheikh Chilli’s restaurant may not be fancy but for $6.99 a plate, the mutton biryani is rich in flavor and looks but be warned, it is spicy.

For a better understanding, Biryani is often compared to the Spanish dish Paella as it is a combination of rice and meat. In the quest to find tasty biryani my last stop was the very famous Kiran’s Restaurant & Bar for an upscale tasting. Chef Kiran made special arrangements for us to try both Chicken and Mutton Biryani along with Shammi Kababs. Biryani is the most popular dish at Kiran’s and she has also been hosting ‘Iftars’. Indian food advocate or not, the biryani prepared by the Chef at Kiran’s is going to convert you. She takes extra care to make sure the meat is fresh and the spices are not overpowering, keeping in mind the diversity of her customers. Both Chicken and Mutton biryani had a distinct taste with raisins and cashews. The price is higher but the food is lighter on your tummy.

Happy Ramadan and Enjoy your Biryani pick!

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